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Golf

There's only one hitch in Garcia's game now - putting

By BOB HARIG
Published May 20, 2004

On the surface, there was nothing wrong. Yes, Sergio Garcia had that annoying waggle, agonizing to watch for spectators and fellow competitors. But when the club finally went into motion, it struck the ball beautifully.

By age 22, Garcia was ranked fourth in the world. He had victories on the PGA and European tours. He nearly stole the 1999 PGA Championship from Tiger Woods, at age 19, and was a star on the European Ryder Cup team.

The Spaniard was on his way to greatness, winning the season-opening Mercedes Championship in 2002 and finishing in the top 10 at all four major championships.

But there was the issue of a slight lag at the top of his backswing. Plenty of golf experts feared that as Garcia became older, the hitch could become a problem due to the timing it required. Consistency would be lost.

So Garcia went to work changing his swing. It seemed odd, and perhaps foolish, when he slipped to 95th on the PGA Tour money list last year and didn't win a tournament.

Maybe the lull was worth it. Garcia won the Byron Nelson Championship on Sunday, his fourth PGA Tour title, and along the way led the field in driving accuracy. During Saturday's third round, he hit all 18 greens in regulation. Ask Woods, who finished a shot out of the playoff but hit just 41 percent of the fairways, what he would do for a fraction of Garcia's accuracy right now.

"I felt like my swing was feeling more and more comfortable (last October) in Atlanta," Garcia said. "So I really felt like my game was on there, and unfortunately, I putted pretty badly. I've been playing decently since then, putting a lot of good rounds together. ... I just need to get a little bit more consistency on my putting, and if I manage to do that, then it should be fun to watch."

True, Garcia's putting has held him back. He could have run away with the Nelson had he putted better on Saturday. And after a final-round 66 at the Masters propelled him to a fourth-place finish, Garcia bemoaned all the chances he let slip away that could have put him in contention.

But Garcia has time. He has been around for five years, yet is just 24.

STRANGE GONE?: Curtis Strange reportedly is leaving his job as an analyst for ABC-TV. The two-time U.S. Open champion who has been in the booth for eight years might not even work the rest of this season, according to GolfObserver.com. Strange, who plans to compete on the Champions Tour next year, is next scheduled to work ABC's telecast of the Buick Classic next month.

OUTBACK FUTURE: It says something about the clout of Outback when the locally based company could take over the Champions Tour event less than five months out and still manage to produce $500,000 in charitable donations. In the previous two events, proceeds from what is now known as the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am were less than $200,000 each year. Even during robust times, a half-million dollars was rarely approached in the 17-year history of the tournament.

Now tournament director Amy Hawk is looking forward to a full year of planning and many improvements. Despite Outback's presence, attendance was down at the February event at the TPC of Tampa Bay, perhaps due to the short time to promote it.

"I think we did well given the time constraints, but the things we can do better is a mile long as far as operations, sales, promotions, you name it," Hawk said. "There are a lot of things to work on to do better for next year. We've got packages put together, we're talking to players about next year, so we're moving forward."

OPEN CHAMP: Ben Curtis is enjoying his reign as British Open champion, and taking advantage of the perk that allows him to be a member of the PGA European Tour. Before playing in this week's Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Germany, he visited this year's British Open venue, Royal Troon. That round occurred on Friday, followed by a visit to St. Andrews (2005 Open) Saturday and Carnoustie (2007 Open) on Sunday. Curtis, who became the first player since Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open to win a major in his first try, is scheduled to move to a new home in Jupiter sometime before the U.S. Open.

LOCALLY: The Chrysler Championship, the PGA Tour event at the Westin Innisbrook Resort Oct. 28-31, is looking for volunteers. Call (727) 942-5566 for information. ... The TPC of Tampa Bay is on track to be sold by the PGA Tour to Orlando-based Meadowbrook Golf next month. Patrons, and the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, will hardly notice the difference. Under a licensing agreement with the tour, the name will remain the same.

- Information from other news organizations will be used in this report.

[Last modified May 20, 2004, 01:02:41]


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